Earlier this spring, we organized the first-ever Sofa Summit - a virtual social advertising event that was everything but a webinar. Let’s take a look behind the scenes and how our team organized an online event for 7000+ attendees in less than 10 weeks.
Why Did It Have to Be a Sofa?
Like many other marketing teams, our team had put together ambitious plans for the first half of the year. In fact, that plan contained more than 40 live events as well as a number of product launches in said events.
Suddenly, the world changed, and people across industries and countries were affected. Still, we felt like we needed to do something to help our customers and the social advertising community to navigate the new reality and the advertising landscape in a safe and accessible way.
It’s interesting to see how, now, in hindsight, our original plan would not have been as effective and fun as Sofa Summit turned out to be. In fact, this virtual conference became bigger and more valuable than we could ever have hoped for.
Today, I’d like to give you a glimpse into our team - what we thought, why we did things the way we did, and especially how we overcame many hardships — all within 10 weeks, from idea to execution.
And to bust the most obvious myth - we called it sofa summit because everybody can remember sitting on one. And at the sofa summit, you can join from anywhere.
What Did It Mean to Organize the Sofa Summit?
To begin with, none of us had ever organized a proper virtual conference before. We have organized pop-up conferences around the world with relatively short turnaround times (1.5 months), but this thing was a beast of its own.
Luckily, at Smartly.io, the unknown is a familiar friend, and as our CEO always says - 'the only constant is change' - we weren't spooked by this.
To get started, we had to forget everything we knew about… everything. As all our marketing plans got canceled, Mark had this idea of organizing a 24h event with content for each timezone.
He even threw out the name "Sofa Summit" jokingly, thinking that it won't become the official name. That's precisely why we decided to name the largest social ads conference just that - Sofa Summit:
- Everybody is welcome, no matter customer, prospect, location or even availability
- Everybody knows what it's like to sit on a sofa.
- We didn't want to endanger anyone with the current pandemic
- We still wanted to simulate all of the perks (and more) of a live event. We wanted to create a space for social interaction, the moments where you can listen in to a good conversation or even meet your heroes - and talk to them.
How We Organized the Event
Firstly, we threw together a set of goals to guide our work. They were simple:
- Goal of 2500 registrants, hopefully, 5000.
- Content needs to be accessible in any timezone
- Re-create the social aspect from offline events
Second, we set up a weekly meeting to figure out the details, assigned owners with the most experience to specific categories of the event. With owners, we talk full ownership - each team member was the de facto expert on that topic. If I said we needed a timezone agnostic setup, that's what we needed. If Lina said we needed X amount of emails, that's what we did.
The most important part of the 'how' is slightly cliche, but that was the driving factor for our success in execution:
Decide quickly, build fast, and fix small mistakes along the way.
Had we tried to perfect everything, or explore every possible point of view, I do not think we would have managed to organize the event.
Learnings from the Sofa
And while it is a classic 'just do it' cliche, here's also some concrete learnings from organizing a truly virtual, timezone agnostic event:
- On-demand content-length: 15-25 minutes is perfect for people to flip through
- Find a video hosting platform that allows sped up playback (e.g., 1.25x, 1.5x) speed
- Delegate as much as you can, especially where you do not have the expertise: We partnered up with Tapaus.fi, who helped us organize everything related to AV, speaker recordings, and on-site management.
- Do not make networking capabilities dependent on the agenda: For us, we had to delay the release of our matchmaking platform due to missing agenda items(titles, descriptions, etc.).
- If you go global, find a tool that translates timezones. It's difficult to explain clearly when an event is truly free of timezones, so it's crucial that the event tech tool you use clearly conveys when everything happens and what is available anytime. It's equally important to bake this idea into your pre and during event communications.
- Promotion: Hook them in with amazing speakers and great visuals. Delight registrants with enticing info about the event
- Marketing: be very clear about how the event works. We did the best we could, but some things were still a little unclear
- Confirmation email: make it expansive. We had a + 70% open rate. Here's the confirmation email we sent out
- Announcements: We announced our partnership with Snap during the event, and picked up a handful of 1st tier media mentions for it. If your event is large and impressive enough, it could intrigue journalists - initially, we planned to make this announcement at the Adobe summit.
If you missed the Sofa Summit, don't worry! You can see all the keynotes and masterclasses here.